One of the earliest churches in Rochester, the Congregational Church is proud of its past and excited for the future. During its long history the church has experienced both growth and loss; controversy and excitement. The timeline demonstrates both determination and forward thinking leadership of the church’s early days. The more recent history continues that legacy and highlights information about the ministry of engagement in the community.
1854-1857 – Southeastern portion of the Minnesota Territory experiences influx of settlers, primarily from the north central tier of states and New England. They have deep roots in the Congregationalism of the East with a reverence for independence and democratic principles and a generous spirit of fellowship.
1858 – The Congregational Church of Rochester, Minnesota, starts on January 3rd organized by 12 members with leadership by Rev. Elias Clark. Space is rented in Rochester’s original courthouse on the west side of Broadway, just south of the railroad tracks.
1863 – Property is purchased on the corner of 2nd Street and 2nd Ave. SW (then Zumbro Street and Franklin Street) on the current site of the Mayo Clinic’s Conrad Hilton building. A tornado leaves the building in ruins during construction. Rebuilding begins promptly and the building is first used in December 1864, though not complete until 1866.
1889 – First pipe organ installed
1894 – First parsonage purchased
1916 – Congregation votes unanimously to adopt plans for a classic form of building with a dome. The existing building is torn down and a new church built on the same site. Rev. B. M. Southgate opened the church on October 28, 1917.
1932 – Church adopts bylaw providing for two women to be elected to the Board of Trustees.
1939 – Church remodels to create a Memorial Chapel for Mayo Clinic patients with doors open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
1948 – Church recognizes spiritual needs of hospitalized patients and calls Rev. Stanley Sargent as Hospital Chaplain of the Minnesota Congregational Conference to offer communion, prayer, a reading or hello.
1957 – United Church of Christ (UCC) is established by joining two existing denominations: the Evangelical and Reformed Church and Congregational Christian Churches. For more on the history of the UCC see http://www.ucc.org/about-us_short-course_the-united-church-of-christ .
1961 – Recommendation for a new church property in a developing area in SW Rochester is adopted. The downtown church property sold to the Mayo Foundation.
1964 – Ground for the new building is broken September 1963. The first service at the present location (974 Skyline Dr. SW) is held September 6th 1964. Rev. Dr. Wesley C. Ewert is the minister at the time.
1969 – Aldrich Memorial Nursery School, whose mission is to provide an inclusive, developmentally based program that equally fosters a child’s social/emotional, physical, cognitive, and language development, focusing on interactive play, leases space in the lower level in order to meet growing student population until their new building is complete in 1991.
1978 – Church installs a faceted glass window on the north wall of the sanctuary (choir loft) with colors complementing the windows at the front of the sanctuary.
1979 – Last of a series of five parsonages sold to allow ministers to choose and own their homes.
1989 – Congregation calls Rev. Diane Harvey. Of note, Rev. Harvey is the first female senior minister in Rochester.
1990 – Outdoor Easter Sunrise services begin at Quarry Hill Park at the site of the cemetery for patients of the Rochester State Hospital. Unique in Rochester, the Easter service is a favorite of many members and draws them together in celebration with individuals and families of the community.
1993 – Head Start, a school readiness program for young children from low-income families, leases space in the lower level. The program promotes the mental, social, and emotional development of children from birth to age 5. In addition to education services, programs provide children and their families with health, nutrition, social, and other services.
1996 – Memorial Garden is added as a space for internment of ashes as well as a place for meditation in a reflective, garden setting.
2000 – Church plays a critical role in the formation of Rochester’s Interfaith Hospitality (IHN) Network (now called Family Promise) and becomes one of Rochester’s initial host sites providing food and shelter to families experiencing homelessness.
2002 – Congregation sells property, sufficient for two homes, to Habitat for Humanity. Church members commit to building one of the homes.
2005 – Capital campaign provides sufficient funds to add elevator and handicap accessible restrooms, one with a shower for IHN and other overnight guests. Other major improvements also funded.
2008 – Church celebrates 150 years of ministry. Cornerstone is opened with some materials removed and some added. See a listing of the time capsule contents.
2009 – Music ministry expands with the addition of four octaves of English hand bells. As an outreach ministry, the adult bell choir provides a yearly seasonal Christmas service to men incarcerated at the Federal Medical Facility.
2012 – The UCC ordains Danielle Bartz. Of note, Rev. Bartz is the first child of the congregation to be ordained into the ministry.
2013 – Monthly work sessions begin in the repack room of Channel One, the regional food bank located in Rochester. On average 12-15 members participate in the session each month.
2014 – Remodel of four restrooms and parlor kitchen enhances the church’s ministry of welcome.
2015 – Rochester Beacon Academy rents lower level to establish a public charter school focused on providing individualized attention to students who struggle in more conventional classroom settings.
2015 – Congregation receives Channel One’s Outstanding Volunteer Award for 2015 in appreciation for monthly service in the repack room as well as willingness to come with very short notice to help with special needs. “Volunteers don’t necessarily have the time; they just have the heart!”
September 27, 2015 – The Congregational Church voted overwhelmingly to covenant together to become an Open and Affirming Congregation.